My Tips For Traveling With Toddlers

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Marlowe Martino stands on a chair in a hotel room in venice next to a suitcase in a blog post about traveling with toddlers

When we were flying out to Los Angeles with the kids, I was reminded of the blog post I wrote about traveling with a baby a few years ago– and the fact that I haven’t updated it since! I realized that as great as those tips were, traveling with toddler-aged kids is a whole other animal. And I’ve done a lot of it the past few years! I’ve figured out some great tips and tricks along the way that I thought I would share with all you parents out there. Most importantly, remember that traveling with kids is HARD and that nobody wins an award for doing it seamlessly. You just have to get from point A to point B in once piece, it doesn’t have to be graceful!

Use Individual Backpacks

Whether you’re traveling with one toddler or multiple, it really helps to pack a tiny backpack that they can be responsible for. I put each child’s essentials in his/her backpack, as well as a few surprise little dollar store toys they haven’t seen before. Each backpack contains: 1 lovey, 1 water bottle, 1 snack, 2-3 little toys, 2 sheets of paper, 1 pen, 1 small book.

Pack Their Suitcase With Packing Cubes

I’ve spoken about my love for packing cubes before, but they are a must when packing children, especially if you pack multiple children in one suitcase like I do! Normally I divide the packing cubes as follows: 1 for Major’s clothes, 1 for Marlowe’s clothes, 1 for both of the kids’ pajamas and swimwear, 1 for sweaters/outerwear, 1 for Toys & books, 1 for Loveys, 1 extra for dirty laundry.

Bring Along Comforts From Home

Whenever we travel, I always pack a few things that I know my kids love, and that remind them of home. I gather a few toys (no stuffies, mostly packable small ones. Magnatiles are great for this!) and about 5-8 lightweight books and pack them in the suitcase. They’re always so happy to see some of their own toys when I unpack at our final destination, and it keeps us from buying cheap unnecessary toys while traveling.

Marlowe Martino snuggles with her Lovey on the couch of a rental house while on vacation with her family in Los Angeles

Bring Along A Strategically Packed Carry On

I never travel with my kids without an “emergency” carry on roller suitcase. I’ve been with the kids traveling when the airline has lost our suitcase for a day or two and it was a total disaster, mostly because I had all of the kids’ comfort objects and necessary sleep items in the suitcase! It only took one time for me to get smart and guard against it in the future. In this carry on suitcase I pack: My laptop, my camera, 1 extra set of clothes for each child, 1 extra lovey for each child, a few extra diapers, a sound machine, a change of clothes for me, a phone charger, 2 plastic bags. I also pack any valuables I may be taking with us in this bag so that they never get checked through on to the plane. I had a lot of jewelry stolen from my suitcase about 11 years ago and vowed never to let it happen again!

Clean The Seats

My kids are very tactile in general, and especially it seems, on airplanes! I’ve watched as Marlowe licked the window. Multiple times. My go-to on planes with the kids is to take a few minutes at the beginning of the flight and wipe down the arm rests, window area, tray tables, and remotes with gentle disinfecting wipes. I love these by Herban Essentials because they use essential oils instead of harsh chemicals, and smell fantastic. I also like to take a separate wipe and clean each of the kids’ hands before we take off as well.

Major Martino sits on a bed wearing a white Tshirt and camo pants, and watches a pink ipad

Keep Them Fed & Watered

One sure thing about my kids is if they’re fussy they’re probably hungry. Whenever we travel, I keep a big ziplock bag of snacks for them in my bag, as well as snacks for Kyle and I. I try to pack these from home instead of buying them at the airport because they tend to be crazy expensive if you buy them there. Granola bars, raisins, apple sauce pouches, and trail mix are their faves right now. I also bring two packages of gummy snacks to use as a bribe/last resort because both of my kids will ALWAYS flip for a gummy snack.

Keeping the kids hydrated is also a must for me! I bring their water bottles from home– but word to the wise: cabin pressure can make sippy cups explode water when you open the spout after takeoff! Make sure to gently unscrew the top to release pressure before you open the spout. I had Marlowe pop open her sippy cup to have a drink after takeoff and literally the entire cup of water spouted four feet in the air and in to the lap of the guy sitting in front of her. He was not pleased.

Bring Over-Ear Headphones

We’ve learned the hard way that traditional free earphones on flights don’t fit in kids’ ears. And airlines don’t let your kid watch an ipad without earphones! We make sure to pack over-ear headphones for each of the kids so that they can either plug them in to the airplane system, or take turns using the ipad.

Major Martino sits on a bed wearing a white Tshirt and camo pants, and watches a pink ipad

Always Pack A Travel Med Kit

Anyone with kids knows that when it comes to coming down with something, kids always seem to get sick at the least opportune times. And for us, it’s usually on vacation! Before leaving home for more than a night or two, I always pack a little medical kit with a few essentials: 5 bandaids, 1 Neosporin, 1 Ace Bandage, 1 Thermometer, 1 children’s ibuprofen bottle, 1 Children’s tylenol bottle, 1 adult bottle of advil, 1 new bottle of saline spray, 1 travel pack of tissues, 1 Travel pack of tums, 1 Travel pack of immodium, 1 travel pack of pepto bismol tablets, 2 packets of travel-friendly Pedialyte mix. This sounds like a lot, but I promise it fits in to a fairly small zip pouch– and we’ve had to use every item in it at one point or another!

Keep The Kids On Whatever Time Zone Is Useful To You

We do it differently on every trip, but a lot of how we choose to adjust our kids to time zone has to do with our intentions for the trip. If it’s easiest for us to bring them to dinner with us at a later time, then we keep them up, and have them sleep in. If we are going someplace a few hours difference and want them to acclimate, then we try to get them on that time zone the first day or two for sure. I do this by having them nap the first day so they can stay up later (if needed), or by planning an activity with a lot of walking or playing if I need them to go to bed earlier. It usually takes my kids three full days to adjust to a new time zone. We are going to Europe this summer, and I plan on having the kids adjust to a later schedule since we are used to eating dinner around 8 or 9pm when there!

Commit To The Fact That It Won’t Be Perfect

Getting out of our routine with the kids always used to freak me out a lot. As somebody who has a lot on her plate, the idea of my kids not sleeping, or acting up, because we switched things up on them used to intimidate me so much that I wouldn’t want to take them anywhere. But then I realized that I wasn’t going anywhere either. LOL. And I decided that making some family memories was worth getting out of our comfort zone a bit! Now when we go on trips as a family, it helps me to remember that we are creating memories, and that it doesn’t have to be perfectly relaxing or “vacation-like” every step of the way. It’s ok if they’re up super late one night, or eat ice cream three times a day the next. As long as the overall feeling of the trip is 70-80 percent great that’s all that matters!

Marlowe Martino sits on a chair and rests her feet on a carry-on suitcase as part of a blog post about the best toddler travel tips

Do you have any great travel tips with Toddlers? Please share in the comments below!

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  1. Melissa says:

    How do the sleeping arrangements work with the kids? My little guy sleeps in a travel crib when we travel now but as he’s getting ready to transition out of his crib at home/getting to big for his travel crib, I’m not sure what to do when we travel!

    02.25.19 Reply
    • It really depends on the room arrangements. When we are at a hotel, we try to get a suite with a pullout couch. And then both kids share that. I always bring their sound machine from home and some inflatable bed bumpers so they dont fall out. If we can’t swing a suite, then we get a room with two queen beds and Kyle and I each sleep with one of them. We’ve found that that works better when they are in the room with us

      02.25.19 Reply
      • Melissa says:

        Thanks for the tip!!

        02.26.19 Reply
  2. Love these tips mama!

    02.25.19 Reply
  3. Kara Bishop Buffington says:

    Where did you get that iPad case? I’m on the hunt for a good kids one for an upcoming trip!

    02.25.19 Reply
    • apple store, love it!

      02.26.19 Reply
      • Kara Bishop Buffington says:

        Thanks! 🙂

        02.27.19 Reply
  4. Courtney says:

    Great tips! And is that an Away suitcase I see? I just bought one about a month ago, and I love it!

    02.25.19 Reply
    • Yes! It’s technically Kyle’s, but he loves it so far!

      02.26.19 Reply
      • Courtney says:

        Well, if you end up wanting one, they DO have a pink one… ?

        02.26.19 Reply
  5. Rebecca says:

    Such amazing info! I love that you have thought of everything I haven’t! When we last traveled with our son (to Europe @ 10months) he wasn’t walking or nearly as independent and I just went for it! We are totally going to use this packing info! But I do have one question, at what age did you no longer feel it necessary to have a car seat on the plane? Our son will be almost 2 when we travel via plane this summer.

    02.26.19 Reply
  6. Daphna says:

    Love this, great ideas, thank you! One tip I painfully learned is make sure to take your child’s lovey, stuffie, etc out of their hotel bed before housekeeping cleans the room. We lost my son’s stuffed puppy that he’s had since birth when housekeeping took the sheets and the puppy with them… and it made for several hard nights without his beloved puppy.

    02.26.19 Reply
  7. Marci says:

    I pack a ziplock sized baggie full of Clorox wipes! Those airplanes are dirty and germ buckets. When my husband was active duty, we had orders to our next duty station. We flew from Japan to NY (!!) we have 4 kids and so at the time of travel we had an 8,7,2 year old and a newborn. It was the longest days of my entire life (even my labors didn’t take that long!). But.. my kids are seasoned travelers.. if we’re in the car driving long distance (we did that with 4 kids from NY to NV) or flying, they crash as soon as we take off.. so I definitely overpacked when it came to entertainment and snacks. They were content to watch on their iPad, and they enjoyed the snacks from the airplane (bunch of weirdos) or they slept. We recently flew from NV to FL and my only problem was how crowded it was. I always get compliments from other passengers and stewardess on how awesome my kids are at traveling.

    02.26.19 Reply
  8. Brigit says:

    Very cute pics and great advice!

    02.26.19 Reply
  9. Katie says:

    These are great tips! Do you bring your own car seats with you to destinations you know they will be in a car?

    02.26.19 Reply
  10. danielle says:

    You guys seem so happy in Los Angeles!! I watched your insta stories- and just wondered if its largely because of Kyle’s job that its not in the cards for yall to move back there?

    02.26.19 Reply
    • We loooove LA, but yes because of Kyle’s job we can’t be there right now. He just signed another multi-year deal so it’s east coast for us for a while!

      02.26.19 Reply
  11. Emily says:

    This is so helpful. Do the pod packs work for a small roller suitcase as well? Also, what is the iPad holder you use and that is in the photos? We’re looking for one for a coming trip. Thanks for the tips!

    02.26.19 Reply
    • The packing cubes are mainly for a regular suitcase but you could probably fit one or two in a carry-on. The ipad case is from the apple store!

      02.26.19 Reply
  12. Tina A says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to put this extensive list together. I haven’t yet travelled with my 2 yr old, but your list gives me the confidence to do so and be 100% prepared. Thank you!

    02.26.19 Reply
  13. Lorena says:

    Any tips on earphones for a toddler that hates them? Or should I just forget about giving him our electronics while on the plane?

    02.26.19 Reply
  14. Nicole says:

    Laughed at your comments about the water bottle exploding as the same thing happened to us last week! Travelled with my three year old for the first time and it is very different then flying with a baby! One tip we do is always bring way more snacks then I think we will need. The trip last week we ended up sitting on the tarmac for two hours over lunch and a hungry toddler is not a happy toddler! Thanks for the tips!

    02.26.19 Reply
  15. Mary says:

    I also bring a small u shaped neck pillow in case my son,now 3, sleeps during the flight although he usually enjoys the whole procedure and doesnt sleep.I am always very careful of how I will plan the hours BEFORE the flight and try to make sure that he has played and eaten enough so that he will be a little tired during the flight (not exhausted of course cause this would be hell?) and be willing to seat still on an airplane seat for a short flight of 2 to 4 hours and be content with some snacks and dont get too much hungry.I agree that water and snacks are necessary but not too much of either or too much juice cause as you know it leads to too many visits to the toilet or FULL diapers which is not what you need during take off or landing ?.

    02.27.19 Reply